Appomattox and Marian Anderson: Symbolic Irony of History
April 9, 2011

Don't Buy Real Estate From This Man!

Don't Buy Real Estate From This Man!

On This Date in History: Wilmer McLean was a Virginia grocer. He probably did fairly well at his craft. But, he didn’t have much luck when it came to real estate. See, he had a patch of land not too far from the nation’s capital. The first major conflict of the Civil War was known as the Battle of Bull run and it took place on McLean’s land. Not only that, but Confederate General P.G.T. Beauregard thought that the McLean house would make a good headquarters, so he comandeered it. The land was ravaged by the warfare and the house took a beating as a Union cannonball came crashing through the kitchen.

Lee's Table Not as Valuable as Grant's

Lee's Table Not as Valuable as Grant's

After the battle, which was also called the Battle of Manassas,  McLean hung on but gave up a year later when the entire episode was repeated during the Second Battle of Bull Run. Following the second episode of his home being turned inside out,  McLean picked up his family and moved to a small town some miles away in an effort to find some peace and quiet from the war.

McLean's Manassas Home No Longer His Castle After Bull Run

After a couple of years, McLean thought he’d made a good move until this date in 1865. See, Generaly Ulysses S. Grant had gotten General Robert E. Lee to abandon Petersburg and Lee’s army was on the run until finally, Lee sent Colonel Charles Marshall to find an appropriate site for a conference between the two army’s commanders near the small town of Appomattox Courthouse, Virginia which was some miles from the old McLean house. The first person that Marshall came upon was none other than Wilmer McLean. McLean first steered the colonel to an abandoned house with no furniture in it. Colonel Marshall quickly dismissed the idea. McLean felt like it was all but inevitable that the war had reached out and grabbed him again so he offered his home.

Parlor In Lower Left Hand Room

Parlor In Lower Left Hand Room

On that afternoon, General Robert E. Lee signed the articles of surrender to General Ulysses S. Grant in the front parlor of the McLean home and effectively ended the Civil War, though some skirmishes would go on for several days. Now, this was a pretty historic occasion and the soldiers on hand knew it. They wanted a piece of history. Union General Edward O.C. Ord gave McLean $40 for the table at which Grant had sat. Another Union General, either Philip Sheridan or George A. Custer, got a good deal by acquiring the table at which Lee sat for just $25. At that point, McLean figured he needed his furniture and brought an end to the impromtu rummage sale. But, less honorable individuals would have none of it. Chairs were broken up, upholstery ripped and the parlor was torn to pieces as if another cannonball had ripped through. Once again, Wilmer McLean had been touched by Civil War history…and his house took a beating. Maybe he should have moved to Texas.

Bear More Valuable Than Jesus?

Bear More Valuable Than Jesus?

The selling of the Grant table for more than the Lee table reminds me of when I lived in Birmingham. I once went into an art store. On some shelves were busts. Confederate General Nathan Bedford Forrest went for $500. Robert E. Lee and Jesus Christ went for $550. Bear Bryant? He went for $600! Yes indeed, it’s the bible belt and they love Robert E. Lee and Jesus, but you better not schedule a church social when Alabama football has a game!

Who knew the 1 year old girl would later sing for kings

Some 32 years after the close of the Civil War, a little girl was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  By the age of six, this young lady became known in her church as the “baby contralto.”  Recognizing her musical talent, her father bought a piano but was unable to afford lessons so the young budding prodigy simply taught herself.  In her early teens, she began accepting invitations to sing until she finally got the courage to ask for $5 per performance.  Groups were eager to pay.  Around that same time, the Philadelphia Choral Society held a benefit concert that raised $500 so that she might be able to afford voice lessons with a leading contralto of the day.  Following her high school graduation, her principal introduced her to the highly sought after vocal teacher Guiseppe Boghetti and her audition brought the man to tears.

23 years old looking as good as she sounded

Throughout the 1920’s and 1930’s, her career exploded.  She performed all over Europe at great stages such as those found in London and Berlin.  When Arturo Toscanini heard her in Salzburg at the Mozarteum international festival, the prestigious conductor told her, “Yours is a voice such as one hears once in a hundred years.”  She even performed before the King of both Sweden and Denmark.  By the late 1930’s, she was performing some 70 concerts a year in Europe, Latin America and in the United States, including at Carnegie Hall.  Wherever she went, she was welcomed to great acclaim…that is until she attempted to perform in the capital of the United States of America.  You see, Marian Anderson was one of the greatest contraltos the nation has ever produced but she was rebuffed by some who were not deaf but still could not hear.  Although a bloody Civil War had been fought that was thought to have brought freedom for all, African-Americans were not living on a level playing field in many parts of the country, including the nation’s capital.

Marian Filled the Mall After the Snub for Constitutional Hall

Washington’s Constitutional Hall was the city’s foremost venue but the city was segregated and the hall itself had separate seating based on race.  I bet I know who got the front seats.  Anyway, when Marian’s agent attempted the book the hall, he was told that it was unavailable.  It seems that, in 1935, those who ran the hall created a rule that called for only white performers.  So, while it was supposed the be the greatest venue in the city, the greatest contralto in the nation, if not the world, was not allowed in.  Marian Anderson was good enough for the crowned heads of Europe, but not Constitutional Hall.  How can such a place be considered the best when it won’t allow the best?  The First Lady of the United States, Eleanor Roosevelt was so incensed that she resigned from the Daughters of the American Revolution which just so happened to be the owner of Constitutional Hall.  Musicians protested and much of the public was in an uproar.  I’m not sure if President Roosevelt ever commented but, I’m sure he gave his blessing to Secretary of Interior Harold Ickes when he arranged a free open air concert for Easter Sunday.  On this date in 1939, 74 years to the day after The Army of Northern Virginia surrendered to Union forces under the command of Lt. General Ulysses S. Grant, Marian Anderson stood on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial and performed before 75,000 adoring onlookers.  Millions more listened at home on their radios. 

I Bet Old Abe Smiled Over Marian's Shoulder

Relating to her performance, Anderson said that at first, she was reluctant to accept the invitation because she didn’t like a lot of show and that “one could not tell in advance what direction the affair would take. I studied my conscience. …. As I thought further, I could see that my significance as an individual was small in this affair. I had become, whether I like it or not, a symbol, representing my people.”  A few weeks later, Anderson performed at the White House for President Roosevelt the visiting King George VI and Queen Elizabeth of Great Britain.  Finally, in 1943, at the height of World War II, Marian Anderson performed at Constitutional Hall under the condition that the Daughter’s of the American Revolution suspend their segregationist seating policy.

Marian Anderson at New York's Metropolitan Opera 1955

While history justifiably remembers Dr. Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, Marian Anderson is largely forgotten.  In a city filled with monuments that elicit great symbolism, I think it is quite fitting to remember the contralto who performed on the steps of the monument, made largely of marble from former Confederate States, to the man remembered for his  leadership in a great struggle the resulted in freedom for African Americans on the day that struggle effectively came to an end.  It’s folly to try and play the “what if” game but I do wonder for a moment that, if Marian Anderson had not performed in 1939, would Dr. King have been able to stand in literally the same spot 25 years later?  Her career flourished and she lived to see great change prior to her death in 1993 at the age of 96.  But, certainly, as her voice was one heard once in a lifetime, her legacy should be etched in the American conscience for eternity as one rarely seen in a nation’s history.

 

Abraham Lincoln Was But An Afterthought to the Organizers of the Gettysburg Battlefield Dedication
November 19, 2010

Not Many Photos Exist From Gettysburg

Not Many Photos Exist From Gettysburg

Closer Look at only photo of Lincoln at Gettysburg

Close up of above photo with only known image of Lincoln at Gettysburg

On This Date in History: I have a few words concerning the events of November 19. 1863 but anything that I could say would pale in comparison to the speech reprinted below. It is the the Gettysburg Address and it was delivered 146 years ago today. The president was not invited until about two weeks prior to the ceremony. He was not the main speaker. Edward Everett, a noted statesman from Boston and Harvard President, was given two months notice to work on his speech, which took about two hours to deliver. Mr. Lincoln’s speech was but 270 words. It has been accepted that Lincoln wrote the address on a scrap of paper while on the train to Pennsylvania because it was reported that way in a novel. However, historian Stephen B. Oates points out in his biography, With Malice Toward None, A Life of Abraham Lincoln that the train was too crowded and noisy for him to work on it. Instead, Oates says that he wrote part of it on White House stationery before he left and finished the rest on the morning of the event in Gettysburg.

Verbiage in Invitation to Lincoln Very Interesting

It has been reported that the president was sick. While I find nothing to confirm that he was ill during the proceedings, I suspect that people have made the assumption, perhaps accurate, because after he returned to the White House, he was diagnosed with varioloid, which has been described as a mild for of smallpox. I’m not sure about that one because it seems to me that a “mild form of smallpox” is akin to being “a little pregnant.” Also, it is widely reported that his speech was panned in newspapers across the land. The Chicago Times and paper from Harrisburg, PA certainly show that there were some. However, not all papers were non-plussed by his remarks. In fact, the Chicago Tribune was sharply in contrast to its rival and even Horace Greeley of the New York Tribune recognized the greatness of the speech. I believe I recall a quote from Edward Everett who remarked afterward, “Mr President, you were able to say in a few minutes what I could not in two hours.” This is probably not a direct quote but something reasonably close.

Last Lincoln Portrait Apr 4, 1865

Words of Nov 19, 1863 Long Remembered

Harrisburg Patriot and Union: “We pass over the silly remarks of the President; for the credit of the Nation we are willing that the veil of oblivion shall be dropped over them and that they shall no more be repeated or thought of.”

Chicago Times: “The cheeks of every American must tingle with shame as he reads the silly, flat, and dishwatery utterances.”

Chicago Tribune: “The dedicatory remarks by President Lincoln will live among the annals of man.”

Horace Greeley: “I doubt that our national literature contains a finer gem than that little speech at the Gettysburg celebration, November 19, 1863… after the close of Mr. Everett’s classic but frigid oration.”

Leaving Gettysburg For the Cemetery

Leaving Gettysburg For the Cemetery

I think what may be lost regarding the speech is what it shows. It is an early indication of where Mr. Lincoln was heading in terms of after the war. Even on a battlefield well north of Washington, Lincoln was confident of victory. What often gets overlooked is that on the same day, US Grant had forced the capitulation of Vicksburg which essentially gave the Union full control of the Mississippi River and effective cut the Confederacy in two. The victory at Vicksburg arguably sealed the deal for the outcome of the war. Mr. Lincoln was aware of that that and if you read carefully, you can see the hints of what his notions were regarding his intentions. He does not give a rah-rah victory speech with talk of retribution. He does not discriminate between the allegiances of the soldiers and speaks of the “unfinished business” and a “new birth of freedom.” Clearly he is talking about concluding the war but he is also referencing a nation of freedom for all. This speech is not just one of honor but also one of reconciliation. It has always eluded me of how differently our nation’s history might have been had the 16th president been allowed to conclude the “unfinished business.” How would he have handled Reconstruction and the reconciliation of the former enemies. John Wilkes Booth lives in infamy as the man who deprived the nation of “what might have been.” There are 5 known drafts of the Gettysburg Address. Each seems to have some variance. Here is a version of the Gettysburg Address:

THE GETTYSBURG ADDRESS: Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation or any nation so conceived and so dedicated can long endure. We are met on a great battlefield of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field as a final resting-place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this. But in a larger sense, we cannot dedicate, we cannot consecrate, we cannot hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead who struggled here have consecrated it far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living rather to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us–that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion–that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain, that this nation under God shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the earth.

Unfortunately, it seems that the youth of America seems to be as uninspired by Mr. Lincoln as did the organizers of the dedication at Gettysburg or some scribes who critiqued the President’s message.  Recently, I was at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC and I spotted several student groups.  It appeared as if the students thought that they were at some social gathering. Most were not paying attention to the tour guides, instead generally talking and cutting up while playing what my old football coaches used to call “grabass.”  There was no sense of reflection or respect for the memorial or the man to whom it was built.  It was only older visitors who took the time to read the words of the Gettysburg Address and the text of the President’s second inaugural speech which are etched forever in the marble.  Maybe I’m getting old, but that ain’t right.

Weather Bottom Line:  After a rather dreary and damp day, look for early fog to give way to loads of sunshine that will persist through the weekend..save for periods of darkness.  Conditions will be quite pleasant so get out and enjoy the great weekend weather.

Civil War Balloon Flights Were Not Leisurely Flights of Fancy
September 24, 2010

Thaddeus Sobieski Constantine Lowe's Life Rose Like the Incline and Balloons He Developed Before It Came Crashing Back to Earth

On This Date In History: This date in 1861 was not a good day for flying. At 3:30 AM on April 20, 1861 Thaddeus S C Lowe decided it was a good time to test his new 20,000 cubic foot balloon called Enterprise. I’m not sure if the balloon was shown in the Star Trek movie that showed all of the previous vessels called Enterprise. I don’t think that I recall that being the case. Anyway, he took off from Cincinnati before the sun comes up and his little test mission turned into a misadventure. He got whisked away by 100 mph winds aloft that sent him to South Carolina. He thought he’d get welcomed like a crowned prince like the Wizard of Oz. Instead he was arrested as a spy. Apparently the professor was absent minded as he had no clue that 6 days before Fort Sumnter had fallen and the Civil War had begun. Fellow academics convinced the state authorities that Lowe was on a scientific mission and they let him go.

Lowe's Intrepid

I’m not sure if Professor TSC Lowe was ticked at being arrested or if his buddies were wrong because Lowe promptly went north and became the leader of the Union’s Army of the Potomac Aeronautic Corps of balloonists. Lowe designed and built several balloons for a whole Union fleet with the largest being the 32,000 cubic foot Intrepid that required 1200 yards of silk. This was a group of mainly civilians who made some 3000 flights in the first two years of the war. They would tether up and view the battlefield from aloft and then use a telegraph to wire down the enemy position and direct artillery fire. It was the forerunner to aerial reconnaissance. In fact, later in WWI, the airplane was used initially for recon missions until it was discovered you could drop bombs from planes or put machine guns on the plane and shoot down enemy planes and blimps. Anyway, on this date in 1861 Lowe himself was shot down. Somehow he ended up behind enemy lines. I don’t know if he got caught up in another 100 mph wind or enemy fire cut his tether or if he was just going on another “scientific excursion” but down he went and he was captured again. His wife Leontine was a witness to the whole thing. Did she sit and cry? Did she hope that academics would again get her husband set free? Nope. Instead, she personally led a raid of nighttime commandos who moved in and rescued the professor before he could be captured again.

Railway was cool but it cost Lowe his fortune

Before the war, Lowe had established a reputation for new theories and study in Chemistry, Meteorology and Aviation. He had a dream of a transatlantic balloon flight. I guess he got rich because after the war, he moved to Pasadena, CA and built a 24,000 foot house.  The professor made a bunch of money after he invented the ice machine in 1865 followed by a number of other inventions.   He also founded Citizen’s Bank, which I remember as a kid being the sponsor of my friend’s Little League baseball team.   He tried to build  a railroad to Mount Wilson but, when that fell through, he built a rail line to Echo Mountain and then on to the summit of  the mountain named for him and the Lowe Observatory among other things. Funny thing is the guy ended up living with his daughter in her Pasadena home as he lost his fortune.  Seems his financial grasp had extended beyond his reach when it came to that railroad up the mountain overlooking Altadena.   Makes you wonder if now California will rename its mountains something like Mount AIG or Mount Lehman Brothers.

Weather Bottom Line:  Count yourself lucky if you got any rain out of the frontal passage on Friday.  It was the 83rd day of Louisville having temps 90 or better this year which betters the old mark of 81 days in 1954.  While the upper air was too warm and the air too dry to support much in the way of rain, the front will bring a halt to the hot weather as highs will be in the upper 70’s on Saturday and Sunday.  A winter-like low will drop into the Ohio Valley and southern states beginning early in the week.  This will greatly enhance our much-needed rain chances on Monday and clouds and scattered showers should hold temps in the low to mid 70’s for a good chunk of the week ahead.

The Union Army in the Civil War Was Nearly Commanded by an Italian
September 8, 2010

Had Abraham Lincoln Been Able to Offer his Emancipation Proclamation a Year Earlier, This Italian Military Hero May Have Been An American Military Hero As Well

Winfield Scott Lives up to his "Old Fuss and Feathers" moniker and the notion that he was a tired old man at 75

On This Date in History:  It has been well documented and reviewed that Abraham Lincoln had a difficult time finding a general to lead the Union Army at the outset of the Civil War and in the years to come.  The carousel of commanders ultimately ended with the elevation of General Ulysses S. Grant to the position of Lt. General of the Armies in 1864 following his victory at Vicksburg in 1863.  When the war began, Lincoln had a true military hero in General Winfield Scott who had gained accolades for his efforts in the War of 1812 and the Mexican War.  But “Old Fuss and Feathers,” as Scott was called, was 75 years old and in declining health when hostilities began in 1861.  After Scott had set forth his “Anaconda Plan” to strangle the South with a naval blockade, he retired from military service.

Lt. Colonel Robert E. Lee Could Not Turn His Back on Virginia

Before the war broke out. Scott had approached Lt. Colonel Robert E. Lee about taking command of the Union armies in the field.  Scott pleaded with Lee not to join the Confederacy.  Lee, however, felt great loyalty to his state of Virginia as its history had in some measure been shaped by his ancestors, including American Revolution hero Henry “Light Horse Harry” Lee, Robert E. Lee’s father.  When Virginia voted to secede from the Union and Lee informed Scott of his decision, the aging general said, “Lee, you have made the greatest mistake of your life;  but I feared it would be so.”    Virginia officially proposed secession on April 17, 1861 and Robert E. Lee resigned from the US Army 3 days later.  Three days thereafter, Lee was named commander of the armed forces of Virginia.

McClellan's Deliberate Approach Was Good For Railroad Building But Not So Good For Waging War; Posing Like Napoleon Didn't Make Him Napoleon

From that point, it was all downhill for the Union.  President Lincoln turned to General George B. McClellan who was a West Point Graduate but had spent the most recent years with the railroads, most significantly plotting the course of the Northern Pacific Railroad across the Cascades.  He was gifted at organization and literally built the US Army from scratch.  But, McClellan envisioned himself as an American Napoleon and had a strained relationship with the president as exemplified by his reference to the Commander in Chief as an “idiot” or “the original gorilla.”  McClellan had been a good student at West Point and thus followed the doctrine taught at the academy which  was based on the ideas of Antoine Henri de Jomini.  In general, the military strategy involved maintaining supply and communications lines and securing key locations.  True to his organizational strengths, McClellan and other Union generals tended to take their time in preparation and tended to make deliberate, rather than decisive, moves.  Lincoln accused McClellan of having a case of “the slows.” 

Famous Alexander Gardner Photo of Dead Soldiers at Antietam

In September 1862, Lee invaded Maryland and split his army, which was unconventional, in order for him to follow the Jomini doctrine of securing his supply routes.  McClellan is said to have received advanced intelligence that informed him of Lee’s plans.  A Union soldier in Frederick, Maryland had found a pack of 3 cigars in the street and when he picked it up, he found the cigars were wrapped in Lee’s orders to his field commanders which outlined the strategy which were known as Lee’s Special Orders  no. 191.  McClellan was brimming with confidence that his much larger army could surprise and overcome the divided forces of the Army of Northern Virginia and achieve a great victory.  Alas,  in spite of the information, McClellan moved so slowly and with such deliberate care that Lee was able to regroup his army at Antietam.  The Battle of Antietam, which was fought near Antietam Creek  on September 17, 1862, was one of the bloodiest of the Civil War.  McClellan said it was a great victory but, in fact, his army with a two to one advantage in numbers missed an opportunity to destroy Lee’s army and perhaps end the war.  Lee escaped with his forces intact and McClellan failed to follow up with a pursuit.

Garibaldi Refused Command of Union Army Due To Lincoln's Reluctance to Commit to Free American Slaves

As it turns out, the name of George B. McClellan might be lost to history had Abraham Lincoln been successful a year before the Battle of Antietam.  You see, on this date in 1861, the president attempted to enlist the services of Italian Revolutionary Giuseppe Garibaldi to lead the Union Army.  Garibaldi had become famous in his own country in his successful operation to unify Italy.  Robert E. Lee did not join the Confederacy because he supported slavery, but instead out of loyalty to Virginia.  Garibaldi had no such loyalty issues and had fought against slavery in South America.  However, a sticking point in the attempt to gain the skills of Garibaldi was the Italian’s insistence that Lincoln promise that American slaves would be freed.  At that point, Lincoln’s objective was to preserve the Union and he doubted he could reach his objective and make such a commitment. 

Ever Heard of Don Carlos Buell?

Of course, 5 days after Antietam, President Lincoln announced his intention of issuing the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863 that would free all slaves in areas in insurrection.  Lincoln said it was a military measure to help limit the South’s ability to make war.   However, it effectively freed the slaves since it would be incomprehensible to free those in bondage only to put them back in their former state once the war was over.  Had Lincoln felt as if he was in a position to make such a commitment in September 1862, then George B. McClellan might have been relegated as a footnote of history, like General Don Carlos Buell or even, in some measure, Winfield Scott. 

Light Italian Aircraft Carrier Named For Garibaldi

As it stands, it was Giuseppe Garibaldi who has been lost to American history.  Ultimately, victory was acheived under the command of Ulysses S. Grant, who was not a very good student at West Point and therefore had not been indoctrinated in the Jomini philosophy.  He developed a strategy that involved the “theatre of war” as well as using his overwhelming superiority in stregnth to simply attack and overwhelm the enemy.  The tactics involved are known as “Grantonian Tactics” and were later used by the likes of Erwin Rommel and Bernhard Montgomery.  The philsophy continues to this day and is described by historian Russell F. Weigley as The American Way of War.  The media has given some of those tactics the moniker, “Shock and Awe.”  As for Garibaldi, while he was never named as commander of the Union Army, the Italians did name an aircraft carrier in his honor.

Weather Bottom Line:  I saw someone on TV on Tuesday night say that the track of what is left over of Tropical Storm Hernine would determine if our rain chances go up at the end of the week.  What a crock.  A tropical cyclone is a very large feature and this storm remained well defined even as far north as San Antonio.  Its flow opens up the Gulf and the storm will track into the plains states.  The flow is so broad that most certainly, the moisture drawn up to the east of the center of the low will over run the cold front that came through on Tuesday.  The question will be whether or not the moisture will overcome the dry air and when it does, not the track of the system.  Look for a coolish night in the upper 50’s, a warm afternoon on Thursday with low humidity and high clouds on Thursday afternoon and then thickening clouds as the day progresses on Friday.  The dry air will limit the rain chances for awhile but by late Friday, into Friday night, its likely that our atmosphere will be saturated enough to give us a decent shot at some much needed rain.   The system will lift the front north as a warm front on Friday night or Saturday morning and that will be the best chance.  Saturday may be a shade warm and humid in advance of a cold front which may not only provide decent rain chances Saturday evening, but also, I would think, a risk of some trouble-making t’storms.

Some US Currency Was Once Worth Just a Fraction of a Dollar
August 21, 2010

Five Cent Postage Currency Note 1862

On This Date In History: Many people think that the economy is just terrible. I recall the one in the late 70’s and early 80’s with unemployment at about 8%, Inflation at about 11% and interest rates at about 16%…or maybe higher. Perhaps your grandparents, or maybe even Steve Burgin, can tell you tales about the stock market crash in 1929! But I bet hardly anyone knows about this date in 1862 when economic conditions got so bad that the government started printing 5, 10, 25 and 50-cent notes.

5 Jeffersons Equals 25 Cent Postage Currency in 1862

See, in 1862 the US Government had a little problem. It was called the Civil War. By August 1862 things weren’t going so well. Just like in later wars…WWI, WWII, Korea, Iraq….the good guys weren’t rolling to victory in the first year or so as Americans expected and, in fact, the news wasn’t good so the American public, being short-sighted, turned to despair. In 1862, coins were made of nearly pure metals. Pennies were copper, other coins were silver or gold. Well, with the government falling into debt to finance the war and the perception that the Union might lose, people started hoarding their coins. A building in New York collapsed from the weight of pennies stored on the second floor. The Washington Star wrote that “. . . In 1862 small change became very scarce. . .It was more than a day’s search to find a five-cent silver piece.” So, there was no money in circulation and the government had other things to do like figure out how to stop the Confederate Armies. So, it was up to the Treasury Department.

One George Was on the 10 Cent Note But Five Georges Was Worth 50 Cents

Treasury Secretary Salmon P. Chase proposed using postage stamps as currency.  Americans were already using them in such a manner with the shortage of coins.  But, the postal service did not like the idea and displayed its disapproval by refusing to give refunds for soiled stamps.  In spite of the non-cooperation from the post office, Congress and President Lincoln passed the Postage Currency Act on July 17, 1862 which authorized the printing of 5, 10, 25 and 50-cent notes.  The stamps were designed by US Treasurer General Francis E. Spinner who asked for someone to bring him some postage stamps and blank paper. He cut pieces of paper in equal 2.5 x 5 inch sections and affixed stamps of various denominations on the corner. Spinners cut-outs became the model for the 5 different issues of the mini-bills that continued in production until 1876. There were 23 different designs that apparently are some of the most artistic in American currency.

Front of 3 Cent Note from 3rd Issue of 1864-1869

The first issue began on August 21, 1862 and were known as Postage Stamp Currency.   Spinner had shown no creativity whatsoever in regard to the 5 and 10-cent notes because they were simply facsimiles of the corresponding 5 and 10 cent postage stamps.  The first issue of the Postage Currency was not even legal tender but could be exchanged in 5 dollar lots of United States Notes.  They also could be used for any payments due to the United States up to 5 dollars.  In the first few months of production, the sheets of stamps were perforated like regular postage stamp sheets. 

Reverse Side of 3rd Issue 3 Cent Postage Currency

 But, demand was so high that  the perforating machines couldn’t keep up so they started printing them on regular sheets which had to be cut with a pair of scissors.  Soon, it was discovered that the stamps were quite easily counterfeited and Chase ordered that a new batch be produced in 1863 that wasn’t so easy to duplicate.  The new set had printing on the reverse side (not sure how you could tell front from back) and they had additional colors.  The Currency Stamps are great finds for collectors, especially that first issue.  I got a $10 silver certificate in change some time ago and I’ve also gotten steel pennies in change, but never have I found a 5-cent bill.

Weather Bottom Line:  Saturday morning we had a line of rain and t’storms roll through the area.  This was in advance of  a shortwave trof that is associated with a cold front to the west.  We had much needed rain and this event was very predictable as it was quite prominent in the Midwest on Friday night.   Now, here’s the problem.  The front and shortwave will be approaching all day and will come through tonight.  The big question is will we have enough time to reload the atmosphere.  This morning’s activity used up all the energy.  Given that we have all day, it seems likely that we will erode the clouds by the afternoon and we will heat back up again.  So, in all probability another line will develop this afternoon.  But, a question in this regard is where does it form?  If it forms to our west, then we will be in the midst of developing strong storms and that could be interesting.  It may form right over the top of us too or, less likely to our east.  I suspect that we will get another round this evening with the front, though it may be more of a scattered nature.  Either way, we remain on the edge of the SPC risk outline for severe weather in the slight category. If we get anything the biggest threat, I should think, would be in the form of high winds.  Lightning is not a severe category but is still a risk nonetheless.

Depending on how fast this guy moves through, we may have a lingering leftover shower early Sunday but after that, we look dry and the weather looks pretty good for much of the week ahead with lots of sun, reasonable humidity and highs in the upper 80’s and lows in the upper 60’s.  I believe that we are on the downside of summer and we’re most likely about done with the excessive heat and humidity of the last several weeks.

Custer Made Last Stand without Long Hair or title of General
June 25, 2010

Custer Was Not A General For Long

Little Big Horn Battlefield Map

On this Date in History:  In 1875, the Native American nations in the western United States were in the process of being rounded up and forced onto reservations.  Needless to say, for people used to roaming the plains, this was not too well received.  So, a group of Sioux and Cheyenne Indians left their reservations in defiance.  The United States sent 3 columns to make a coordinated attack in an effort to  force the Indians back to the their reservation.   One of the columns was the 7th Cavalry under the command of George Armstrong Custer who was ordered not to attack without the support of the other columns.  But, on this date in 1876, he found a Sioux Indian village.  When he saw a nearby group of about 40 warriors, he decided to disobey orders and attack before the smaller group could alert the larger body of the Army’s presence.  Then he made one, if not two more mistakes.  He divided his forces into three groups with the intention of attacking from three directions in order to prevent an escape.  Beyond dividing his forces though, he failed to get a good report of the lay of the land.  The seemingly simple movement of his troops was thwarted by a series of bluffs and ravines of which Custer was unaware. 

Little Big Horn Survivors in 1886

He also was wrong about the enemy’s strength.  As it turned out, he was attacking a force that outnumbered him by about 3-1 and he was doing so with a divided army.   In the end, some of Custer’s men escaped but the column commanded by Custer himself was eventually surrounded and all the men were killed.  After the battle, the Indians stripped and mutilated the bodies because they believed that the soul of a mutilated body would be forced to wander the earth aimlessly and not get to heaven.  But, Custer’s body was stripped but otherwise not touched.  Some accounts suggest it was because the Indians respected Custer as a great warrior.  But, that seems unlikely because Custer was not in uniform. He was wearing a buckskin outfit which seems like it would be pretty hot.  So, they more than likely did not think that he was a soldier and that is why they spared him.   Another possibility is that, since Custer had cut his famous long blond locks very short for battle, that they did not bother scalping him since due to the lack of hair on the scalp.  No one really can say for certain why Custer’s body was left unmolested but it is not likely that the Indians knew that the body in question was that of George A. Custer. 

Guidon Worth 2 to 5 million dollars?

The Battle of Little Big Horn in Montana was one of the worst defeats in US Army history.  Including scouts, some 268 men were killed though 380 US soldiers survived.  One might think that this battle would be a forgettable part of US military lore but, on this date in 2010, it was announced that a momento of the Battle of Little Big Horn would be put up for auction.  The item is a flag that looks more like  pennant or a swallow-tail designed American flag.   Its real name is a guidon and it was found after the battle folded under a dead soldier.  In June 1895, the artifact was sold to the Detroit museum of Art for $54.  Today, the Detroit Museum of Art is known as the Detroit Institute of Arts and it is putting the guidon up for auction.  What was valued at $54 115 years ago is now expected to fetch somewhere between $2 million and $5 million.   After all of this time…why sell it?  Money for one and also, the museum has determined that they collect art and this battle flag is not art.  It sure wasn’t a good luck charm either for the 7th Cavalry led by Lt. Colonel Custer. 

Lt Col Custer Laying With Dog While Resting During Civil War Peninsula Campaign

You see….George Custer was not a general officer at the Battle of Little Big Horn.  He was a West Point graduate and was a Captain when the Civil War began.  He had many daring and successful escapades in the Civil War with great success at places like Gettysburg, Winchester and Cedar Creek.  He was given brevet promotions for his actions. 

Custer's Crow Indian Scouts Gather in Rememberance At Little Big Horn Grave Site

Eventually, Custer was breveted to the rank of Major-General of the volunteers.  He accepted the initial flag of surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia and was present at Appomattox Courthouse when General Lee formally surrendered to US Grant.  He was the youngest General to serve in the Union Army.  But, after the war, he was commissioned as a Lt. Colonel in the regular army, given his position with the US 7th Cavalry.   Thus…”General Custer” only existed from about October 1864 to March 1866 when he mustered out of the volunteer army.  He became a Lt. Colonel in the regular army in 1867 and between the time of his new commission and the end of his life, he survived a court martial and year long suspension.  If the army had instead discharged him, the name of George Custer might never have been so well recognized today, which might have suited Custer whose long list of gallant actions and brilliant success has been totally overshadowed by his big blunder at Little Big Horn.

Kentucky Learns No Decision is the Wrong Decision; You Must Take a Stand
May 20, 2010

Houses Divided Fall but What if they Can't Decide to Divide or Not?

Even a Kentucky Civil War Battle Map is Not Too Clear

On This Date in History:  The American Civil War split the nation in two:  North vs. South, Slave State vs. Free State.  Except for one thing.  Not all of the slave states seceded from the Union.  One of those states was Kentucky.  It had been formed from the state of Virginia and, as part of the deal, Kentucky had to be a slave state.  I suppose that there were two reasons for this little clause.  One was that the politicians were generally from the wealthy class and the wealthy minority owned the vast majority of slaves.  Also, slave-holding Virginia’s legislature wanted to double its power.  Because of distance and topography, it was extremely difficult to govern such a large area stretching from the Atlantic Coast to the Ohio River.  So, they almost had to do it.  But, they also knew that citizens in the western part of the state really wanted it too.  So, they agreed to the split and, by making certain that it was a slave state, ensured two more Senators from slave states as well as an additional delegation in the House of Representatives that would be supportive of the “slaveocracy.” 

Sherman Ruled Kentucky Long Enough To Be Called Insane

Well, as previously mentioned, the vast majority of slave-holders in Kentucky were wealthy planters.  The majority of people, however, did not own slaves.  So, that made for a difficult decision for legislators when it came to secession.  Not only were there more people who did not own slaves in the state, but also the Federal government was putting great pressure to have the state of the birth of Abraham Lincoln remain in the Union.  Militarily, it was also an extremely important strategic asset for the North as whomever held Louisville could control the Ohio River at the Falls of the Ohio.  Louisville was also a big rail hub for the Louisville and Nashville Railroad and its connection to the South.  The Kentucky Legislature chose not to choose.  Instead, on this date in 1861, the state of Kentucky took a stand of neutrality.  They would officially not support the North nor the South.  It was a pretty short sighted position as I’m not sure how exactly the state thought that it could keep either side from sending troops through the state.  The fact is, they couldn’t. 

US Grant Rise to Prominence Followed Initial Confederate Invasion into Kentucky

President Lincoln was a very shrewd politician and so instead of forcing the issue, on July 10,1861 he wrote  Inspector General of the Kentucky Militia Simon B Buckner and stated that Federal Troops would not enter the Bluegrass State.  In essence he was taking the high road and probably understood that the Confederacy would not make such a claim but instead try to entice the slave state to join their ranks in some form or fashion.  If that was his thought, then he was correct because on September 4, 1861 Gideon Pillow led his Confederate troops out of Tennessee and into extreme Western Kentucky to set up fortifications at Columbus, KY.  Rebel Major General Leonidis Polk was in control of Arkansas and Missouri and he was the one who ordered Pillow into the state.  The South’s Secretary of War told Polk to withdraw but Confederate President Jefferson Davis over-ruled that order.   In reaction, Union General US Grant moved from Cairo, IL to secure Paducah and Smithfield.   Shortly thereafter, Grant started his climb to prominence with victories and Fort Henry and Fort Donnelson

Magoffin Was Stylin' With His Beard But Was Hardly a Trendsetting Governor

Obviously, neutrality was not going to work .  Both sides had violated the neutrality terms but the Confederates had started it.  Really, they had started it well before Pillow’s crossing the border.  See, Kentucky Governor Beriah Magoffin had signed the notice of neutrality but he had sympathies with the Confederacy.  So, he did nothing when Rebel recruiters came into the state.  He also did nothing when war materials were being exported South.  Lincoln, however, refrained from reacting because he was very sensitive to doing anything that might shove Kentucky into the arms of the Confederacy.  But in June elections, Unionists had won 5 of 6 Kentucky Congressional seats.  For some reason, many secessionists in the state decided it was wise to boycott the polls.  Then, in early August, Republicans won majorities in both houses of the Kentucky legislature. 

Harper's Weekly-Ohio Regiment in LouisvilleSo, it should not be surprising that two weeks after Pillow moved into Kentucky, the legislature resolved that the Confederate “invaders must be expelled!”  Magoffin resigned and that was the end of neutrality.  The Union Army designated Louisville as the home of the Army of the Ohio. At first, it was under the command of Robert Anderson of Fort Sumter fame but he was in poor health and was replaced by William T. Sherman.  Sherman kept wildly saying he needed more troops and acted so eccentrically that he was seen by many as “insane.”  His career almost came to an end but instead he was transferred under the command of Henry Halleck in St. Louis where Sherman regained his composure and later regained his reputation as the right hand man of General Grant.  Don Carlos Buell took over in Louisville and commanded about 75,000 men.  They built some 15 forts around Louisville as a defense against Confederate invasion. 

When an adversary retreats after a battle, most of the time it's seen as a victory. Buell held the field after Perryville and the Confederates never returned to the state in force. Yet, Buell was fired and many want to say the Battle of Perryville was a Confederate victory.

In 1862, Braxton Bragg led an army of about 45, 000 into Kentucky.  He was convinced that Kentuckians were just waiting to join the Southern Cause.  He moved his troops in an tried to gain recruits.  By the time he got to Mumfordville, it became apparent that was not the case.  Reporter Whitelaw Reid, who later became the editor of the New York Tribune, said that Bragg complained that Kentuckians were “shuffling middlemen” who just sat on the sidelines waiting to see which side would be victorious before making a committment.  So, he tried a political solution by going to Frankfort and holding his own gubnatorial swearing in ceremony.  Perhaps he thought that if the Confederacy swore in a Confederate governor and simply claimed the state that the citizens would follow.  Instead, the ceremony was halted early due to the report of Union cannonfire from a detachment of artillery that was sent from Louisville by Buell.  It was a hot and dry summer and both Buell and Bragg had their men go to Perryville in order to get water from a creek.  A battle ensued with the Confederates inflicting more casualties but the Union holding the ground as overnight Bragg retreated.  Bragg continued to retreat all the way out of the state, never to return.  Buell didn’t follow him and he got fired, never to serve again.

Jeff Davis Monument: No Comparison to Washington

My research revealed a historian who claims that the people of Perryville buried the Union dead and left the Confederates to rot in the hot sun.  Some 25,000 Kentuckians fought for the Confederacy while over 125,000 wore the blue uniform.  Louisville was the home of 75,000 Union troops and was defended by 15 forts against Confederate invasion.  The Kentucky legislature called for the expulsion of Confederate armies.  When given the opportunity to join Bragg’s army, Kentuckians did not respond.  William Clarke Quantrill of “Quantrill’s Raiders” fame died in Louisville after being shot and captured near Smiley, KY.  Confederate Guerilla leader Marcellus Jerome Clarke aka Sue Mundy was executed in Louisville.  Doesn’t sound like much of a Southern state, does it?  Well, after the war, as part of the “Lost Cause” effort in the South, history changed.  Many of Louisville’s elites had been associated with the South and that’s what they wanted to remember.  Louisville, home of the Army of the Ohio, has a Confederate War Memorial.  Jefferson Davis was born in the state but lived in Kentucky for just a few years before he moved to Mississippi. He did return to go to school for a few years but his life’s work was really in Mississippi.   Yet, his statue is in the state capital.  There is also monolith monument to Davis in Fairview, KY that resembles the Washington Memorial.  Not a single Union memorial is in the state.  On April 17, 1885 Louisville led the nation in a birthday celebration of the 63rd year of Ulysses S. Grant.  You can find a plaque commemorating the event on Grant’s tomb but not one word of it is in the 1896 Memorial History of Louisville.  The same is true of the decade long National Industrial Exposition yet, the 5 year Southern Exposition has an entire chapter all to itself.  No…Kentucky said it was neutral but sided with the Union.  It’s history was tied with the North.  I’ve seen a quote that says that “in 1865, Louisville was a Northern City and by 1900 it was a Southern City.”  Most Kentuckians have been raised to think it was always in the South.  Nevertheless, those of us from more southern regions know better. 

No Matter What Party of the Country you Associate Kentucky, It's a Very Interesting and Nice Place to Live

When my friend Kim Stevens, from Muscle Shoals, AL married a young man from Louisville, her family said that they guessed it was okay for her to marry a Yankee.  When Snow White and I were in Savanah, GA and discussing the war between the states with a tour guide, when she found out that we were from Kentucky she dismissed us as being Yankees.   Much of Kentucky gets from 1 to 2 feet of snow each year and annually has at least one night of near zero or below zero temperatures.  Last year, Louisville went through the entire month of July without a single high temperature in the 90’s.  The South?  No…but its not the North either, nor the Midwest or the East.  What makes Kentucky so difficult to pinpoint geographically also makes it difficult to define culturally.  And from a climatological and meterological perspective, its location makes it extremely difficult to categorize and forecast.  Perhaps that is why the state legislature could not make up its mind in 1861.  But, one thing that I think is certain, this conundrum is exactly why I think the state is a wonderful place to live.

Weather Bottom Line:  Thursday evening into Thursday night will most likely produce some pretty good storms with rain totals over an inch.  We don’t need that.  We don’t need severe storms either but most likely we will not see those but its worth keeping an eye on. Some troubling storms with wind and small hail may be on the loose in a couple of areas.  Still looks like we heat up and dry out from the weekend forward.

The Greatest Maritime Disaster in US History: Sultana
April 27, 2010

Steamboat Sultana Looked Overloaded to Everyone but the Captain

Extremely Overcrowded Steamship Sultana April 26, 1865 near Helena, Arkansas

On this Date in History:  When we think of maritime disaster, one immediately thinks of the RMS Titanic.  After all, there have been numerous movies and documentaries that detail and discuss the incident.  When the news of the Titanic hit the papers, any other news of the day was lost to the backpages and buried.  Hence, when Harriet Quimby became the first woman to fly across the English Channel, she had the misfortune of doing so the day after the Titanic sunk.  She died not too long after and so most Americans think of Amelia Earhart as the first lady of flight.  Back in 1865, the news of the killing of John Wilkes Booth on April 26 dominated the media.  So, when the greatest disaster in maritime history took place, it too was left to the backpages and since, like Harriet Quimby, has been largely lost in the conscience of American history.  Timing, they say, is everythying.

 The steamboat Sultana was steaming north on the Mississippi River shortly after the conclusion of the American Civil War when three of its four boilers exploded. The Sultana was rated to carry a maximum 376 passengers. On the fateful journey, it was overloaded with some 2200 to 2500 former prisoners of war returning home on this date in 1865 along with the crew and some civilian passengers.  The incident occured around 2AM about 7 miles north of Memphis, TN as it moved against the strong Mississippi River current. Many of the passengers were wounded Union soldiers. The deaths of at least 1700 souls was brought about by the fact that the boilers catastrophically failed in the middle of the night, the river current was strong and turbulent and extremely hot water and fire rained on surviors.  Unlike the news of the sinking of the RMS Titanic, the Sultana disaster was relegated to the back pages of most US newspapers.

Andersonville 1864

What adds to the tragedy is that the vast majority of those on-board were Union prisoners of war who had been held in the infamous Andersonville Confederate prison and other prisons such as Cahaba (aka Cahawba).  These soldiers, many wounded and extremely frail from their time in horrid prison conditions, wanted to get home as quickly as possible.  But, it was not just the desire to get home that resulted in the overloading of the boat.  I mean, the Captain could have simply said that his boat was full and told the rest to wait for the next one.  But, the policy of the government in providing transportation was to pay 5$ for each soldier transported.  Keep in mind that most soldiers received about $15 a month while they were fighting so $5 was a pretty good chunk of change.  It was such a good deal for the steamboats that boat captains regularly paid US Army officers $1.15 for every man that officer directed to a particular steamboat.  Bottom line is that the more people a captain could stuff on his boat, the greater his profit.

Andersonville Survivor-Many on the Sultana Were Very Frail

Now, the soldiers were loaded on board in Vicksburg, MS for a trip to Cairo, IL and the Sultana was just one of many boats providing transportation.  It was the chance of a lifetime for steamboat operators and any delay would result in the potential loss of profits.  So, when one of the boilers on the Sultana sprang a leak while in port at Vicksburg,   the captain ordered a patch be put on the leak.  This was a shortcut and perhaps a fatal mistake.  Most researchers suggest that the bulge in the boiler should have been removed and replaced.  But that would have taken about 4 days so the captain went the 1-day patch route.   If he had waited 4 days, other steamboats would certainly have picked up the precious cargo and there would be no way to make up for the loss as this mass transport would happen just once.   Historians Stephen Ambrose and Douglas Brinkley say that the US Army officers knew of the maintanence issues with the Sultana but were eager to get the $1.15 per man kick-back and loaded the unknowing soldiers on board.

On April 24, 1865 at about 9 pm, the Sultana cast off from Vicksburg.  Captain J. Cass Mason, who is described by the US Naval Institute as “respected” but “reckless,  told an army officer that he’d carried that many men in the past and that the boat was sturdy.  Mason was well aware that his boat was extremely overcrowded but did not consider it overloaded.  He assured the officer that the Sultana was a good ship and the men were in very capable hands.   The officer told Captain Moss, “Take good care of them.  They are deserving of it.”    With that, the ship was on its way to Memphis where on April 26, 1865 it stopped to pick up a load of coal.  At around midnight, it cast off again to continue it’s journey.  The repaired boiler exploded about 2 AM on this date in 1865 and the fact that it was only 7 miles upstream illustrates just how slow it was moving.  Between the load it was carrying and the flow of the river against it, it was only able to muscle 3.5 miles per hour.  The strain on the patch was too much.  It exploded and that caused two others to immediately blow up.  Fire raced through the boat, the two smokestacks fell and crushed many on the deck.  Keep in mind that a steamboat boiled water to create the steam so scalding water no doubt affected numerous passengers, many of whom were unable to move due to their condition and were in great pain from their wounds.

The Sultana was but 260 feet long with a draft of just 7 feet.  The RMS Titanic was 882 feet long.  The RMS Titanic had 2223 passengers and 700 survived the sinking while 1517 perished.  The much smaller Sultana carried 2200 to 2500 and 1700 to 1800  were killed in the disaster leaving  500 to 800  to survive initially, but 200 more would die later from their wounds.  The survivors of the Titanic were fortunate in that it was a still night with calm seas, but it was extremely cold and the water was freezing.  The weather conditions of the Sultana disaster weren’t nearly as cold, but the river had a very swift and turbulent current due to spring run-off from melting snow and seasonal rains upriver.  Those who escaped the exlosion had to fight the deadly current.  The boat itself was not completely destroyed in the explosion and fire but the hulk of wreckage floated downstream before ultimately sinking at Memphis where today it rests covered in mud and covered by the Mississippi River.

SPC Severe Probability Thurs AM to Fri AM

12Z Tue GFS Very Bullish for Rain Midday Derby Day

Weather Bottom Line:  I’m not convinced that it’s going to be dry for the Kentucky Derby Forecast.  The longer range models still show disagreement in that the European model keeps big storms several hundred miles to the West on Friday while the GFS has  a cold front draped across St. Louis.   Either way, we will get a warming trend ahead of the system beginning on Wednesday.  Moisture levels will also be increasing as we head to the low to mid 80’s. 

12Z Tue NAM Hold Rain Just West for Oaks Day

I still have an eyebrow raised about the prospects of severe weather around here but I don’t see a kicker.  Further, the GFS vertical profile prog doesn’t really present menacing severe indecies.  However, the GFS does throw out a little more than a half inch of rain for Friday afternoon which may mean we have a questionable Oaks Day Forecast.  I tend to think that we will be okay for Oaks Day.  I”m not sure if the progression will be as slow as the Storms Prediction Center seems to be going with, which is the European solution.  My guess is that the timing of this will be something in between the GFS and European.  Any slow down in the GFS solution will result in a pretty good Oaks Day.  But, the GFS throws out 2 inches of rain in Louisville from 1AM Saturday morning until 7 pm Derby Day.  Even if it’s slower, we get rain and t’storms for the afternoon.  Every model right now throws out some amount of rain for Derby Day.   So, if you are picking a horse early, a good mudder will be a wise decision.  However, I think the wisest thing will be to wait to make your wager.  There is such disagreement with the data that its difficult to really pin down a firm forecast.  While all indications are that we will have low level convergent flow and an increasing jet stream intensity, which would support t’storms, the timing is debatable.  Should that scenario play out and some sort of kicker like a shortwave come through the flow, then we’re talking severe potential.  I have a fair amount of confidence that the rain and t’storm chances will be high for Derby Day.  I feel pretty good about the idea that Oaks Day will be warm, breezy and partly cloudy.  But, there is enough uncertainty that its probably not a good idea to hang your derby hat just yet.

John Wilkes Booth’s Assassin: Man of Mystery
April 26, 2010

Booth Wanted Poster

Booth Wanted Poster

On This Date In History:

A new conspiracy theory got started when presidential assassin John Wilkes Booth was killed in a barn on this date in 1865. It’s kinda interesting how infamous he is to this day.   Americans these days generally are pretty poor when it comes to history yet, this guy is probably one of the better known villains known to just about everyone.  Probably not as well known as Colonel Sanders, but still,  most people recognize the name John Wilkes Booth.  That was true in 1865 as well because he was quite famous as an actor.  Today, it would be like a famous, good looking actor like Brad Pitt being an assassin. Or maybe more like Alec Baldwin because Booth’s brothers were also actors and all three followed in the footsteps of their father, Junius.   Anyway, after he murdered President Lincoln, Booth escaped Ford’s Theatre by jumping from the presidential box to the stage.   His spur caught in a curtain or some bunting and he landed awkwardly such that he broke his leg.   The story of Booth’s escape remains so compelling that as recently as 1995, the Washington Post published a story retelling the fugitive’s tale.  

Booth Brothers (L-R) John, Edwin, Junius Jr.

No doubt, the broken leg  complicated his original plan for elusion.   He and co-conspirator David Herold made their way to the home of Dr. Samuel Mudd on April 15, 1865.  In a statement to authorities, Dr. Mudd recounted that he had met Booth previously at St. Mary Catholic Church in Bryantown, MD, where he was introduced by Mudd’s neighbor, J.C. Thompson, as someone looking to purchase some land.  Booth  spent the night at the doctor’s home before purchasing a horse from Mudd’s neighbor.  Suspicion has held that Booth was really recruiting Mudd as an accomplice but the evidence at the time obviously was not too convincing.  Mudd was convicted later for aiding Booth but President Andrew Johnson pardoned Mudd after the doctor served four years in prison.   Mudd set Booth’s leg in a make-shift splint and he and Herold left the next day.  Eventually, they crossed the Potomac River into Virginia where Booth had hoped to gain sancutary.

Artist Conception of Booth Being Dragged From Garrett's Barn

 They came to the farm of Richard H. Garrett south of Port Royal, Virginia.  Garrett’s 11-year-old son grew up to become a Baptist minister and made a little cottage industry of retelling the tale of the final hours of John Wilkes Booth.  According to the then young Garrett, Confederate mail had been halted after Lee’s surrender and the family had no idea that the president had been killed.  However, it must be noted that many historians have been unable to confirm the story of Booth’s visit with the Garretts except that a detachment of men who were hot on the trail of Booth and Herold caught up with the men and found them hiding in Garrett’s barn on the morning on this date in 1865.  Herold surrendered when the order was given for the men to do so, but Booth refused.  

David E. George Claimed on Deathbed in 1903 He Was John Wilkes Booth

Rev. Garrett’s story notwithstanding, the whole Booth episode has been muddled over the years and there are many loose ends, which I suppose is one reason why it remains a relatively popular subject in literary circles.  There is a website that claims that the Ghost of John Wilkes Booth appeared in Chicago and said that he really broke his leg falling off his horse.  Keep in mind that this site thinks there was a Union General “McClennon” and not the proper McClellan, so I’m not sure how much stock to put in it. A more famous story is that of  Finis L. Bates, who wrote in 1907  that Booth really escaped, changed his identity and committed suicide in 1903.  In some association with that story, there has been a rumor that Booth lived as John St. Helen in Texas before moving to Enid, Oklahoma as David E. George and then killed himself. 

Booth's Supposed Mummy

Anyway, the prevailing orders to the pursuers of the assassin were to take Booth alive. With the presumed guilty party trapped in the barn, he had nowhere to run so they could have just waited him out.  Instead, the Union soldiers lit the barn on fire to try and smoke him out. But, before he had a chance to come out, Sergeant Thomas P. “Boston” Corbett stuck his musket through a slit in the barn walls and shot him.  I think the thought is that the bullet severed Booth’s spine. So, the assassin was killed and whenever an assassin is killed before being brought to trial, conspiracy theories begin.   That has certainly been the case with John Wilkes Booth.   

Booth's Escape Route Took Him To Garrett's Barn April 24, 1865

Corbett testified that he fired a carbine, yet the autopsy showed Booth was killed with a pistol bullet. When Booth was dragged from the barn, the officer in charge said, “He shot himself.” Then of course came the claims that Booth really wasn’t killed and that it was all made up or the dead guy was a Booth lookalike.   There is also the theory that Corbett was part of a cover up and that he killed Booth to make sure that the accused couldn’t talk.   That same type of thing came up 100 years later when Jack Ruby shot Lee Harvey Oswald following the assassination of President Kennedy. In the early 20th century, a carnival barker claimed that he had the mummified body of John Wilkes Booth. I’m not sure if anyone has explained how or why the presidential assassin would have been turned into a mummy but I suppose the display was intended as proof that they got their man!

Corbett Could Still Be on the Loose!

Corbett Could Still Be on the Loose!

Corbett went on claiming he shot Booth and had a simple explanation as to why he disobyed orders.   He blamed God!   He said that God told him to do it and that his orders from God were ultimate.   He also said that God once told him to avoid sexual temptation.   To insure that he would  avoid such circumstance, Corbett said that he castrated himself with a pair of scissors in 1858.   If nothing else, it shows he was somewhat of a zealot or perhaps it illustrates that he was a nut.

If Abe Was Still Lurking in the 1870's, then Why Not Corbett Today?

I’m not sure what it took in the 19th century to disqualify one for a job because the man who was not at his post guarding the door the night the president was assassinated kept his job in security.  And, in the same way, the self-castrating-order-disobeying Corbett managed to gain employment with the state of Kansas when he was appointed as the doorkeeper of the Kansas legislature.  Corbett was dismissed in 1887 after threatening a lawmaker with a gun.   He was committed to an insane asylum (imagine that) but escaped and was never heard from again. Now, there is a famous photo of Mary Todd Lincoln from between 1870-76 that supposedly revealed the image of her dead husband standing behind her comforting her.  So, perhaps it’s best to be careful.  Thomas P. “Boston” Corbett may still be at large and  running around out there somewhere.  He may even have a pair of scissors in his hand!  But, then again,  there may be nothing to fear as the real fate of Corbett is that God simply told him to just go away.

Weather Bottom Line:  Rain chances hold tough for Tuesday as a shortwave dives down from the northwest through the flow.  Probably nothing overly significant but Monday and Tuesday will be relatively cool with a fairly fast and significant warm up for the rest of the week into the weekend.  Low  80’s by Friday if not Thursday.  Question is the weekend.  The GFS is very fast with its evolution of a storm system and its progression across the US.  If the GFS as the 12Z Monday run is verfied, then we could see some significant storms this weekend, quite possibly around post time for the Derby.  But, the European model has no such thing and keeps the deep trof way out to the west.  Tough to say which one wins out.  I’m betting on something in between….guess is we get storms but not until Sunday.  I say its a guess but maybe its an example of wishcasting.

Abraham Lincolns Final Day; “Now He Belongs To the Ages.”
April 14, 2010

145 Years Ago Today, the Course of the Nation Was Changed

Ward Hill Lamon Heard Lincoln Tell of his dream shortly before the President's Assassination

On This Date in History:  Historian Stephen B. Oates wrote in With Malice Toward None: A Life of Abraham Lincoln that one night in the second week of April 1865,  President Lincoln spoke with his wife Mary and long time friend Ward Hill Lamon that he had ghostly dreams.  Lincoln told Mary Todd and Lamon that his most recent dream resulted in his waking and going to his bible where his search led him consistently to passages regarding dreams, supernatural visitations and visions.  When Mary asked what that particular dream was about, Oates describes Lincoln with a sad and serious voice responding:

Lincoln Dreamed of His Own Death in the White House

Lincoln's Dream Came True

“There seemed to be a death-like stillness about me.  Then I heard subdued sobs, as if a number of people were weeping.  I thought I left my bed and wandered downstairs.  There the silence was broken by the same pitiful sobbing, but he mourners were invisible.  I went from room to room; no living person was in sight, but the same mournful sounds of distress met me as I passed along.  It was light in all the rooms; every object was familiar to me; but where were all the people who were grieving as if their hearts would break?  I was puzzled and alarmed.  What could be the meaning of all this?  Determined to find the cause of a state of things so mysterious and shocking, I kept on until I arrived at the East Room, which I entered.  There I met with a sickening surprise.  Before me was a catafalque, on which rested a corpse wrapped in funeral vestiments.  Around it were stationed soldiers who were acting as guards; and there was a throng of people, some gazing mournfully upon the corpse, whose face was covered, others weeping pitifully.  ‘Who is dead in the White House?’ I demanded of one of the soldiers.  ‘The President.’ was his answer; ‘he was killed by an assassin!’  Then came a loud burst of grief from the crowd.”

Lincoln Was Chipper On April 14th After What He Thought Was a Good Dream

Mary Todd said the story was “horrid” and wished she had never asked to hear about the dream.  Lamon said that, as Lincoln spoke, he was pale, “grave and gloomy.”  But, when the President awoke on the morning of April 14, 1865 he had slept quite well.  He had no concerns regarding reconstruction and no bad dreams.  Instead, he had a dream that he had frequently had on the eve of good news.  He had the same dream prior to Union victories at Antietan, Gettysburg and Vicksburg.  So, when he awoke from the dream in which he was on a ship moving quickly toward a distant shore, he surmised that the day must be filled with good news.  After all, it was Good Friday.  However, I wonder if he recalled that “Good Friday” gained the moniker because it was the date that commemorates the death of Jesus of Nazareth.

Lincoln Funeral Train in Philadelphia

That Good Friday in Washington D. C. the weather began under sunny and pleasant conditions.  The President and First Lady planned on taking care of some executive business and then attending a performance of Our American Cousin, a comedy that was scheduled for the stage at Ford’s Theatre.  During a cabinet meeting at 11AM, Lincoln asked, Lt. General Ulysses S. Grant if he and his wife Julia would like to accompany the Lincolns to the theatre.  Grant replied to this verbal invitation in the affirmative if they were in town but, if he was able to attend to his duties, that they were hoping to catch a train that night to visit their children who were then in Burlington, New Jersey.  Grant was able to finish his work before the evening train left Washington on the 14th and so he sent word to the President that he and his wife would not be able to attend. Mrs. Lincoln was quite fond of Miss Clara Harris and so, after several people besides the Grants had declined the invitation, Major Henry Rathbone and his fiancee, Miss Harris, accepted the invitation.  It’s not clear whether or not assassin John Wilkes Booth knew that Grant was not in the box with Lincoln but, when he shot the President in the head, he also stabbed Major Rathbone in the head and neck.  The young major apparently had a bright political future but his life resulted in a tragic scenario.  Rathbone went on to marry Harris and they had 3 children.  But, his mental health had deteriorated with speculation being he never overcame the trauma of the assassination.  Rathbone murdered his wife in 1883 and tried to kill himself but doctors saved his life.  He lived out the rest of his life in an insane asylum.  

Lincoln Funeral Train Route To Springfield, IL

The final letter known to have been written by Abraham Lincoln was a reply to James H. Van Allen, who had written Lincoln to guard against assassination.  The president assured Van Allen, “I intend to adopt the advice of my friends and use due precaution…I thaink you for the assurance you give me that I shall be supported by conservative men like yourself, in the efforts I may make to restore the Union, so as to make it, to use your language, a Union of hearts and hands as well as states.  Yours truly, A. Lincoln.”    Just prior to his leaving the White House for Ford’s Theatre, Lincoln concluded a meeting he had with George Ashmun, who had come seeking a political appointment.  The final words written by Abraham Lincoln was on a pass of admission for Mr. Ashmun that read, “Allow Mr. Asmum and friend to come in at 9 AM to-morrow.  A. Lincoln.”  By 9AM April 15, 1865, Abraham Lincoln was dead.

Derringer Used By Booth Confirmed As Such in 20th Century by FBI

The President of the United States sat with his wife, Major Rathbone and Clara Harris in a special box at Ford’s Theatre watching the popular comedy Our American Cousin. The presidential party had but one body guard.  John Frederick Parker was assigned to guard the door.  He was there when the president arrived around 9PM but he disappeared following the intermission.  It is thought that he joined some other men in the saloon and then found a seat to see the play.  Incredibly, Lincoln’s missing body guard remained on the security staff after the events at Ford’s Theatre.  On this date in 1865, John Wilkes Booth , at about 10:15 PM, fired a single shot .41 caliber derringer into the back of the head President Abraham Lincoln.  Booth escaped by leaping to the stage but caught a spur in the bunting and he broke his leg when he hit the stage.  It is said that he shouted out, “Sic Semprer Tyrannus” which means “death to tyrants” in Latin.  The President was taken across the street to 453 Tenth Street at the home of William Petersen.  They placed him in the bed of a room rented by boarder William Clark.  Throughout the night, family and friends gathered around the President as he breathed laboriously but never regained consciousness.  At 7:22 AM, Abraham Lincoln breathed his last and Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton said, “Now he belongs to the ages.”

Abraham Lincoln Shot 10:15 PM April 14, 1865; Died 7:22 AM April 15, 1865-He Belongs To the Ages

Ulysses S. Grant learned of the assassination in Philadelphia.  At the time, he was told that Secretary of State William H. Seward had also been murdered and it was likely Vice-President Andrew Johnson was also dead.  Naturally, with the potential decaptitation of the government, the commander of the Union Army was asked to return to Washington immediately.  Grant wrote in The Personal Memoirs of Ulysses S. Grant that it was impossible for him to describe his feelings.  He said of Lincoln, “I knew his goodness of heart, his generosity, his yielding disposition, his desire to have everybody happy, and above all his desire to see all the people of the United States enter again upon the full priviliges of citizenship with equality among all.”    Since he was near his final destination, he accompanied his wife to Burlington and then immediately took a special train back to the nation’s capital.  He said upon his return he noticed the stark contrast of the crowds in Washington that had been so joyous when he left had “turned to grief.”  Grant speculated that the South would have been saved much hardship had Lincoln lived and that  “Mr. Lincoln’s assassination was particularly unfortunate for the entire nation.”

Booth Wanted Poster

Historian William J. Cooper, Jr says in Jefferson Davis, American that Confederate President Jefferson Davis, like Grant,  felt great regret upon hearing of the death of President Lincoln.  Davis felt that the South would have been dealt with much more leniently and expected no special considerations for himself or his Confederate colleagues from the new Democrat President Andrew Johnson.  Davis was right as the Johnson administration accused Davis as complicity in planning Lincoln’s assassination.  He issued a proclamation calling for the arrest of Davis and a reward of $100,000 in gold.  Later, during the trial of Booth’s co-conspirators, it was determined that no evidence existed to suggest any involvement by Davis or other high ranking Confederate officials.  The conclusion reached was the death of Abraham Lincoln was planned and executed by a small group of people led by John Wilkes Booth.  Booth had been a famous actor, well known across the nation. He  thought that he would be thought of as a hero.  Instead, his actions have placed him at the top of the list of American villains with whom no one wishes to acknoeledge any family ties or association.

Weather Bottom Line:  Weather still looks on line.  Warm and nice through the rest of the week. High pressure moves off to the east and a little cold front comes through late Friday bringing perhaps some showers or even a t’storm.  Thunder Over Louisville Weekend looks good still with highs on Saturday in the mid to upper 60’s.